It was the scariest thing I’ve experienced since September 21, 1989. I was seven years old, living on John’s Island, SC. For those that don’t know, it’s in the southern portion of Charleston County, and is one of the barrier islands. Yes, I was wide awake and listening as Hurricane Hugo blew over my house.
The difference between then and now is that I’m old enough to really understand what’s going on. It has taken nearly twenty-two years to recreate the fear and the sense of loss I felt standing in my front yard the afternoon of September 22. Back then, I didn’t understand what the word Hurricane truly meant. I got that it was a storm. I understood that there was damage because I could clearly see trees down all over my neighborhood. I remember pain, too – that was the first and only time in my life I’ve ever been stung by a bee.
IT HURT. I still remember the searing pain tearing through the end of my thumb, and the thought of “oh, gross!” when my Daddy ripped open a cigarette, spat into the tobacco, and packed it on my hand. The tobacco helped.
And then, three days later, our neighbor, Mr. Phil, came into our house with an ice cream cake. September 25th is my Mom’s birthday, and because she had spent all of her time cooking and feeding the entire neighborhood, he and some of the other men got together and GOT OUT of the neighborhood to make sure she had a birthday cake.
That was also the first time I ever had ice cream cake.
I remember having to boil water in big stock pots, then wait for it to cool so I could take a bath. It was late September, so it was still HOT outside. And I don’t mean, “oh, it’s a tad warm today…” hot. I mean “oh holy Jeebus H. Crackerjacks on a pogo stick you can fry an egg on the frickin’ sidewalk!” hot. HOT. And we had no power for eleven days. ELEVEN. But we made the best of it, and I like to think I’m a stronger person for coming through that.
But last night… oh, boy.
Now that I’m old enough to know real fear, to understand the true force of nature, and to really register the consequences of a bad storm, all I can say is that I know I’m damn lucky.
I sat straight up in the bed at 1:05 AM. I don’t know if it was thunder, or lightning, or what that woke me up. All I know is that when my eyes flew open, it looked like daytime outside. The power flickered a few times, and went out. Almost ten hours later, it still isn’t back on, and Emergency Management here in Chester says it could be up to four days before everyone is up and running again.
I got up and went to the living room… let me stop here and say this – if you’ve never been without power in the middle of the night during a storm, you don’t know true darkness. When the lightning wasn’t popping, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. …and when I pulled open the curtains, I couldn’t see anything but a wall of white something (rain? wind? who knows!), moving sideways. I got a drink of water – sparingly because I have a well, and without power there is no water – and as I started down the hallway back to the bedroom, I heard something.
Y’all, it sounded like a freight train rumbling through my yard. I panicked a little bit (we’ve already talked about my fear of tornadoes), and for a minute I became a seven-year-old again. I scrambled back to the bedroom and huddled under the covers and tried really hard not to start crying out of sheer terror.
Five minutes or so later, the train passed and the storm started to ease up. By 1:30, it was all but gone, except for the rumbles of thunder. It was still black as hell outside, so I couldn’t see the real damage. I think I dozed off again for a few minutes, but I heard everything that went on. At some point, all three of the cats decided that our bed was a good place for them to be, so they came to visit.
When Rooster left just before 6AM, I got up and dragged myself to the couch. It was still too dark to see, but when the sun came up…
Yeah. That’s what the underside of a pine tree looks like to an earthworm. I’ve seen some crazy stuff, but even when I was little I never got up close and personal with the underside of a pine tree. And this thing is IN MY YARD.
I’ve told all my boys at work that whoever gets there first with a truck and a chainsaw is the big winner and gets to take it home.
The reports are starting to confirm that it was a tornado. That scares me, but again, we’ve covered that already.
All in all, when I look around at the damage in Chester, I keep telling myself that we got off easy. There are people in other places in much, much worse shape than we are. There haven’t been many (if any) reports of injuries…just damage. Downed trees, and the inconvenience of no power. There are a lot of people in the midwest who aren’t so lucky.